The Gift of a Public Faith

“Authentic Christianity is meant for the world and will always be a challenge to the corruption of the world.” – Bishop Robert Barron

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The past few weeks I’ve heard and experienced a very clear message from several public figures in the Catholic world: Faith wasn’t meant to be privatized. Christianity is not a privatized religion. It must be shared publicly in order to fight the resistance of the world.

I think now, more than ever, it seems we need more public displays of Christianity.

Why?

Well, not only to fight off evil, which is a good enough reason of course. But more to dispel the myths of who Christians are and what they look like and how they act. To clear up the confusion! Because I gotta tell you, there are a LOT of confused people out there who have a warped idea of who an authentic Christian is.

Due to the rise of secularism and people identifying as being either non-religious or just plain old “spiritual,” a common assumption is that we are all just like the group of Westboro Baptists. I was astounded to hear this!  Not only is this completely FALSE but it’s also disgusting and hurtful to be associated with this very very small group of individuals. In doing research for my post today I actually went to their website just to confirm that this group has nothing good to say and I was right. Sadly, they are all very misguided. They preach hate. Plain and simple. It was sickening and most of all, discouraging.

I thought to myself, “This is what non-Christians think of us? That among the 30,000 different denominations of Christianity, we are all associated with these people who preach nothing but hate and make it their duty to protest funerals?”

Isn’t this even more of a reason to publicly express our faith and what we believe, in love and with compassion? It won’t do us much good to retreat to our cozy homes or stay inside our churches and just keep our faith to ourselves.

So it starts with us; with me and you.

But where to begin?

The smallest acts can go a long way

Something as simple as saying grace before every meal, even when you’re someplace like a fast food place or a restaurant can go a long way.  How? Well, because you are being SEEN. Others notice that kind of thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said grace before eating a meal and have gotten just a simple smile from across the room from folks. Almost like a nod of approval or a just a simple gesture to show that they respect it. And it serves as a reminder to others that may have stopped practicing this ritual.

I read somewhere recently to always pray before eating a meal at a restaurant and make sure to pray before the waiter/waitress leaves the table after placing the order. That way, you take that moment to ask him/her if you can offer up any prayers for them, too!

It could be something like just bringing your Bible somewhere. Or the Magnificat or the Liturgy of the Hours. Plenty of people are nosy, I have found. They’ll strike up a conversation with you just about anywhere. (Unless it’s just a friendly Midwestern USA thing?)

Take for example, reading a book. Any place that’s public like a beach, or park or commuting on the bus or at the airport is a place where you find many people are reading while waiting for something. I’m always curious what people are reading so I have no problem just asking someone, “What book is that and is it any good?” Fr. Tom of the TOB Institute mentioned that he brought his Breviary with him on a fishing boat recently and it always gets the locals talking and asking him, “What’s that? Is that a Bible? You some kind of holy man or something?” It’s a great icebreaker.

I will give just one small example from my own life that I thought was interesting. It took place at the car dealership where I was getting my oil changed. Of all the places, I ended up evangelizing to the service guy!  He initiated the conversation by asking, “So is it Sister Michelle? I noticed that book in your car when I went to move it.” The book in question was called A Vowed Life that one of my dear friends loaned to me.

I laughed and said “Oh no, it’s most definitely not Sister Michelle.  But funny you should mention that because I’m actually discerning consecrated life, which is different than religious life.” So he proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about that which was fantastic. Then I went to see my sales guy and he had heard from the service guy what we talked about and so then HE proceeded to ask me more questions about consecrated life and what that would look like, etc. So we had an awesome conversation about discerning one’s vocation. Both of these men had discerned married life so I explained how and why I discerned that married life is not my vocation and how I came to that conclusion. What a place to have this random encounter, at a car dealership of all places.

The point is that when out in public, and not just in the pew, we are being seen. We are being observed. Is our conduct in line with what our faith teaches us? Are our actions one of faith or one of what the culture tells us we should be doing? Are we going to let non-religious people stereotype us as “those hateful bigots?” Or are we going to stick up for what we believe while simultaneously preaching the love of Christ?

The public square is open. It’s up to us if we’re going to step into it and declare our faith to all who can hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gift of: Your (Beautiful) Body Story

I wrote this blog post about 6 months ago. I thought it would be worth sharing again, especially for newbies to the blog:

A wise person once said: You Don’t Have a Body. You Are a Body.

In light of my occupation as a personal trainer and bodybuilder, I started to take a second look at the entire fitness industry in light of this statement.

I think too often we focus on the negatives of our bodies. “We hate our own bodiliness,” was something a wise person once said recently (actually it’s the same wise person I just mentioned. I can’t help it, I love wise people.)

I tend to agree that there is an almost universal negative attitude towards our bodies.

I’ve spoken to people on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to what to do with “this body.” I’ve noticed 2 types of people:

The Hater

We hate our body and we do everything possible to hide it, to lie about it, to use it, and abuse it in an effort to make it appear acceptable, perhaps even attractive according to outside influences or societal standards. This becomes an obsession to the point that we become envious of anyone who has the body that we desire so much. This also could lead to despair as we try over and over to attain this “perfect body” with little to show for it. We devalue our bodies and think ourselves unworthy.

The Lover

We love our body so much that we become vain to the point of over exposure. We boast and brag and show off, becoming completely obsessed with maintaining this “perfect” physique. A narcissistic attitude takes over. We believe our body is something to be worshiped by those who hate their own bodies (and we know there are plenty of those).  We also become very frustrated by anyone who isn’t like us. We don’t understand how they just don’t “get with it” and aren’t in love with fitness and health like we are.

But there’s some good news, kind of.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority are those in the middle:

The Love/Haters

These folks have a love/hate relationship with their body. They struggle just like everyone else with maintaining their weight but they don’t obsess over it. They “watch” their diet but they don’t write down what they eat and they most certainly don’t count calories. They like what they see in the mirror but they don’t love it. There’s always room for improvement but they probably only get to the gym once or twice a month.

If there’s one thing all of these people have in common, it’s that they see their bodies as Objects. Things. Possessions.

But what if you looked at your body as a way to tell a story. That certainly changes things doesn’t it?

You can either tell a good, honest story, or a story of lies and deception.

Some examples, since this is a difficult concept:

I’m a smoker and I go to my doctor for a checkup. The doctor tells me that I’m showing all the signs of lung cancer and that I had better cut back or quit on the smoking if I want to live longer. Meanwhile, I’ve seen this same doctor light up a cigarette outside the office and I see a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. That doctor is lying with his body.

Or:

I go to a used car salesmen to try and find a good deal. He sells me this great looking car, I take it for a test drive, the price is right and I drive off the lot but not before he shakes my hand and tells me I made a great decision. Meanwhile, he goes back to his desk and laughs to himself because he knows he just sold me a lemon. By shaking my hand and sincerely telling me I made a great purchase, he lied with is body, as well as his words.

Or:

In the gym, let’s say I take some video demonstrating an exercise or I take a few pictures to put up on my website. When someone asks me how I manage to be so strong or in such great shape, I tell them “Hard work!” but in the meantime, I’m taking some performance enhancing drugs or steroids. I would be lying with my body.


 

So how do we use our body to tell the truth, specifically with regards to health and fitness?

 

It starts with honesty with ourselves. It’s EASY to lie to others. “Oh yeah, I’ve been sticking with my diet and my training. I’ll be ready for that 5k in a few weeks, no problem!”

Meanwhile, you know you’ve cheated on your diet, eaten ll the wrong things, splurged on junk food, and haven’t gotten a run in because you still haven’t bought a good pair of running shoes (or whatever the case may be).  But no one else knows that! So there’s no one to tell the truth to, except yourself.

If we can be honest with ourselves, by speaking the truth, by admitting our faults and our screw-ups, even if it’s in a journal or out loud to ourselves, it’s one step towards telling the truth with our bodies.

It starts when we stop thinking of our bodies as these “things” you have to deal with and work at and drag around. What a sad way to view ourselves. And we wonder why people are SO interested in the quick-fix diet schemes?


 

We need to re-frame our thinking to understand that our body is exactly who we are. It’s not something to be mocked, abused, degraded and devalued at the expense of others or in the name of vanity and pride. And certainly not the in the name of fitness.

Start telling your story with honesty. If we start there, it might become easier to view OTHERS in a more respectful way, not just ourselves.

If you are telling a story every minute of the day with your body…

What kind of story are you telling and what would you want people to remember about it?

The Gift of: Life Renewed

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A picture of my favorite Saint posing with my favorite TOB Teacher, who will probably be a Saint someday. St. John Paul II, pray for us both!

Well this was unexpected.

It’s not everyday you hear that your mentor is coming to a chapel near you to give a talk about God, Sex, and The Meaning of Life.

But this evening I found myself driving speeding just a tad to hear Christopher West give a talk at Walsh University, just a little over an hour away from me.

Never mind the fact that I’ve read 3 of his books and attended TOB1 last summer. Never mind that I attended yet another course in August on Catholic Sexual Ethics and plan on attending TOB2 in June this year. Never mind that I am currently facilitating an Intro to TOB DVD series with over a dozen women from my parish. And never mind that I tend to introduce myself as “a crazy TOB gal” upon first meeting anyone with even an inkling of knowledge about our beautiful teaching. And did I mention that I’m pursuing the full certification so one day I can teach TOB?

Clearly, I am not ignorant to Theology of the Body.

So why would I skip out of work an hour early (sorry boss!) to drive an hour away to hear a talk on a subject I clearly know quite a bit about?

Because I can never get enough. And, as much as I think I know, there is ALWAYS more to learn.

I was thinking about this as I made the drive down there to North Canton tonight. I was grinning ear to ear, SO excited to get there and take it all in.

“Who in their right mind would be this ecstatic to hear a chastity talk?”

Probably because it’s SO MUCH MORE than a chastity talk.

And it hit me, sitting there in the pew tonight, listening to Christopher speak:

It takes your breath away.

And it hit me, on the way home, thinking and reflecting on all the changes that have occurred in me since last spring:

Theology of the Body healed me.

Why would I not be excited to hear about the very thing that cured me?

It never ceases to amaze me that I prayed for healing, I cried to God (sometimes out loud and in front of the Blesses Sacrament), to help me.

And it takes my breath away when I realize the work He did in me.

And it takes my breath away when I think,  “If He has the power to convert a huge sinner like me, then there’s hope for every person out there.”


There’s not enough space (and you, dear reader, don’t have enough time) to read about how much TOB changed my life. I’ve written bits and pieces here and here if you’d like to read just a taste of it. (Or, simply search “Theology of the Body” within the blog to find the rest).

The fact that I changed my blog to it’s current name should give you a pretty good indication that this was more than “just another book” that I just happened to read last year.

TOB saved my life, and I don’t know how else to summarize it better than that.

I know that doesn’t really tell anyone anything specific, and that can be frustrating.

But I always remember that Catholicism is a proposal. And TOB is a proposal. And so I can’t force you to learn it, but I can INVITE you to learn it.

So I invite you, whoever you are, wherever you are at in your journey, to take a look at TOB.

It won’t be easy because, after all, this is all very heavy and intense and uncomfortable sometimes. But that’s why we have some great resources to help us in our time of need.

The first is Jesus. (Duh) He’s our first “emergency contact,” if you will.

But sometimes, you need to talk this stuff out with people who are wise and considered the experts.

Your local priest will also be a great resource and can definitely help you navigate your way into the TOB world.

But for those that prefer to remain somewhat anonymous or like reading more than speaking:

This is where I will give a shameless plug to Christopher’s Cor Project and the TOB Institute.

These websites are the go-to sources for every body. Every state in life. Every budget.

  • The Cor Project is fantastic and well worth the $10/month investment to be a member. As a member you have access to his talks that you can download online and SHARE with your friends and family (Hello! Evangelizing for the modern world!) You will also get emails from him on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays.  They include short YouTube videos as well as quotes and blog posts.

I spoke to a few people tonight at the talk who didn’t want to join because they “already have so many emails coming in each day.”

As a daily email addict myself, I found a solution to this problem: Make the emails part of your daily prayer. 

What I mean by that is if you don’t want to stop subscribing to other email lists like The Catholic Company or the USCCB or uCatholic or Matthew Kelly (I told you I was addicted), pick one to focus on in the morning. Even if you’re daily prayer is only 10 minutes, you can still find that time to be useful if you’re really reading and investing time to reflect on the message.

I’ve even watched his video’s during Adoration (headphones in of course) and THAT has proven to be very helpful.

  • The TOB Institute provides all the courses/retreats to the general public so you can become an addict like me further your own personal journey. I wouldn’t be doing a good job of spreading the message of TOB if I didn’t promote the courses. You don’t need to be a religion teacher or a parent or a priest to appreciate these courses. As you have heard it said repeatedly: Theology of the Body is for every body. Yes, that includes those of us who are single! This isn’t just for married folks, folks.

If you can only attend one in your entire life, you must make it to TOB1.  Period. Nuf said. Just go.


My life, in the past year, has totally changed. I remarked to Christopher as he was signing that picture of St. Teresa of Avila, (drawn by his 15 year old son, by the way):

“You know YOU started this Christopher. You did this to me!! You made me into this crazy TOB chick!”

I think I said Thank You. But in case I didn’t:

Thank You! I’m forever grateful for my new life.

 

 

 

 

Catholic Sexual Ethics Summary

About two months ago I attended a week long course through the Theology of the Body Institute called Catholic Sexual Ethics. It was an amazing experience, similar to my first encounter with TOB 1 but a little more academic considering the subject matter.

I have sent friends who understand TOB this summary below and thought it was time to share it here because these teachings are not something many people are aware of nor have time to read all this material. I have the time and the means, so here you go!


Prior to the course we were required to read several vatican documents: Casti Cannubii, Dignitas Personae, Familiaris Consortio, Humane Vitae, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Persona Humane, and Donum Vitae.(these are all available on the vatican website for anyone to read.) www.vatican.va

The speaker/professor was Dr. John Haas. He is the President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. (http://www.ncbcenter.org/)  This man was amazing. He was clear, concise, funny, respectful, everything you want in a professor. Here is his Bio.

The NCBC has SO much great info and for just $10 a month you can get their newsletter and a free book each year, I believe. Definitely bookmark that page!

We were also made aware of several other websites that I would like to share:

http://couragerc.org/ – Support for Catholics struggling with SSA as well as Parents/Family and Clergy. From their website: Courage serves as a spiritual support system to assist men and women with same-sex attractions in living chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love. There are more than 100 Chapters and… “In helping individuals gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Church’s teachings, especially in the area of chastity, Courage extends the Church’s invitation to a life of peace and grace. In chaste living, one finds the peace and grace to grow in Christian maturity.”  Many people at this retreat had heard of this group so it was encouraging to see the support for it.

http://anonymousus.org/ – How often do we think about the children conceived from a donor of an egg or sperm? How often do we think about what their life is like after they find out they were conceived due to scientific means? In most cases, they have no idea and will never know who their parents are.  And what about donors who donated so much that it’s possible they have fathered several hundred children? Will these children ever meet their other siblings? What if they fall in love and want to marry someone and it turns out to be one of their siblings? While we all understand the desperation to have a child, where is the line drawn when we try to play God?  This website invites all participants to submit their story anonymously. Donors, donor-conceived, parents who are considering IVF or Artificial insemination or donation, doctors of fertility, etc all are able to submit their story. This completely opened my eyes to this issue that no one seems to talk about.

http://onemoresoul.com/ – This site is dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage and children.” Good resources for Natural Family Planning such as NFP instructors, Sermons available to download on the church’s teaching, resources for couples, infertility links, etc.

Speaking of infertility and science, NaProTechnology was mentioned on a few occasions. Here is a link to that as well: http://www.naprotechnology.com/ I’m interested in exploring this further -According to their website – “Natural Procreative Technology is a new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system.”  Definitely bookmark this one!

We also discussed infertility in more depth, transgenderism, sterilization, and of course, abortion and Planned Parenthood.

Here are some things I found particularly interesting/thought provoking:

—-Planned Parenthood admitted that Abortion: “kills the life of a baby after it has begun, It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it. Birth control merely postpones the beginning of life.”
Plan You Children for Health and Happiness newsletter 1968
This was in response to the question of: “Is birth control an abortion?”

—-The Pill is categorized as a carcinogen according to the World Health Organization

—-To the people who argue “Where in the bible does it discuss contraception?” You can answer them, “It doesn’t appear in the bible. This is because to be barren was a curse and to have a child was considered a blessing.” (Some theologians quote the story of Onan as a contraception story/lesson) But it was interesting to ponder that today, we could say this thinking has reversed, hasn’t it? Children are the burden and to have no kids is a blessing to some people.

–After finding out facts about surrogate mothers, IVF, donating eggs/sperm, abortion, I came to the sad conclusion that has been echoed by many: “Children are now seen as commodities.”

With all this depressing news, what about the good fruit that came from this course?

-I got to meet and talk to 110 other fans of TOB which is always a blessing!  But not only that, we all got to witness 23 participants graduate with the full Theology of the Body certification. This means they have taken all 8 courses and are now certified to teach TOB in whatever ministry they are a part of at their parish/in their community. This was course #2 for me so I have 6 more to go!

-For me personally, I have joined the pro-life movement 40 Days For Life. I now pray outside Planned Parenthood with others and offer up my prayers for all the babies that are being aborted there (and everywhere). If I can’t make it to the abortion clinic, I spend some time with Christ in front of the Blessed Sacrament and say a rosary for these women who are faced with this difficult decision.

-I am considering how I can volunteer/donate to my local pregnancy crisis center called Womankind. I don’t know if I’d be good at counseling pregnant women (they offer training) because I think I’d be nervous and would say the wrong thing. But I’m hoping there’s something I can do there that would be a way to help save some babies.

-I have added many books to my ever growing library so I can speak well to RC doctrine and teaching such as “How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice” by Austen Ivereigh, I now listen to EWTN Radio and TV to get the news that matters to me and tells the truth that you won’t get from the secular media.

There’s plenty of other things that could be shared here but this was just a quick summary. More posts to come soon focusing on just one of these subjects so be on the lookout for those.

In the meantime, I hope you visit the websites I have mentioned in order to gain some perspective. Also, take some time to read some of those vatican documents. They are relatively easy reads, you don’t need to be a theologian to understand them.

Bound by Lust, Liberated by the Ethos of Redemption

I just found this passage recently from  Theology of the Body Explained – A Commentary on John Paul II’s Man and Woman He Created Them by Christopher West

The subject matter is Celibacy and Solitude:

Christopher West and Pope John Paull II talk about remaining in the “ache” of man’s original solitudethe “ache” to which the Lord himself refers when he said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). The conscious choice to refrain from marriage “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” becomes a powerful testimony to the fact that God and God alone can ultimately fulfill that “ache” of solitude. Men and women who vow to a life of celibacy devote their yearning for communion directly toward God.

I look at the “ache” and I am deeply attracted to it. And I recently figured out why I am so attracted to it:

“For those whose hearts are bound by lust, the idea of choosing a life of total continence is absurd. But for those who are being liberated from lust by the ethos of redemption, the idea of sacrificing the genital expression of their sexuality “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” not only becomes a real possibility – it also becomes quite attractive, even desirable.

This was me – I was the one who was bound by lust. But I experienced that liberation from lust by the ethos of redemption and let me tell you, it was an amazing experience that I wish EVERYONE could encounter. Because I now recognize that my life has been dominated by lust, I am now extremely excited about living the rest of my life as a celibate. I am welcoming the “ache” with open arms.

I don’t expect anyone to really understand this except maybe for fellow…celibates? 🙂 But for those who are single by choice, those who know that being married and having children is not the path you have been put on, I would propose to you, fellow singles, this life of celibacy for the kingdom. This is NOT a person’s way of saying that “marriage is too hard” or “dating is so tiresome” so therefore, “I’m just going to be single and celibate forever.” No, this is not that at all. This is choosing to live for something greater. For me, I am choosing to go down this path because I feel God calling me to it. For others, they might feel God guiding them to marriage and children. For others they might feel the pull to religious life. I have never felt a desire or yearning to have a family of my own. This feeling has never faded over time and I have never changed my mind even as I enter my late 30’s. This is how I have always felt and now I can finally put a name to it. Now I finally know WHY I never felt the pull to the other vocations – My singleness IS my vocation.

There’s another nugget of wisdom from TOB:

“Celibacy is not only a matter of formation but of transformation.

The Holy Father recognizes that a proper examination of the way in which the celibate vocation is formed, or rather “transformed” in a person would require an extensive study beyond the scope of his analysis (see TOB 81:5)”

And this is why I cannot explain my feelings adequately. How someone becomes or chooses celibacy is so transformative, that a deeper explanation is needed.

I’m actually excited and thrilled to live out the rest of my life as a celibate. And I couldn’t possibly feel this way and this wouldn’t be happening at all if it weren’t for the grace I received after finally attending confession at the TOB retreat last month. After 15 years of living a lust-driven life, I finally have that weight lifted off my shoulders and now I can focus on living an authentic life. The life I was called to live, to be the person I was called to be.

Ahhh, the joy of freedom!

Bonus material: I came across this video from Jackie Francois about the Ache of Singlehood – Worth watching for those who are single AND married. Pretty sure she and I share the same brain. 🙂

 

When You Run from the Truth, You Embrace the Lie

When I was in my early 20’s I attended a talk given by a visiting priest at my sister’s church. It was during Lent when most Catholic Churches invite outside speakers to come and talk to the congregation about how they can grow closer to God, grow in their faith, etc. The speakers are usually thought provoking and lively and interesting.  My sister invited me to come with her on the night they were scheduled to talk about “Sin.” I don’t recall the exact title of the talk but Sin was definitely in there, so we were both thinking, “This oughta be good!”

Right Words, Wrong Music

The first thing we see when we walk into church is a small sheet of paper entitled “Sins that Need To Be Confessed.” As we sat waiting for the priest to get there to start the talk, we both stared at the paper. My stomach was in knots and I began to tense up. I recall staring at this sheet of paper with 20+ Sins on it and I’m counting at least 10 that I was guilty of. My blood was boiling. It didn’t matter what the priest said during that one hour. I had tuned out the minute I read that paper. I sat with my arms folded across my chest, completely shut down and closed off to his words.

As we venture into these reflections (of Theology of the Body) let us “be not afraid” to face honestly how far we have fallen from God’s original plan. For only if we first realize how bad the “bad news” is, do we then realize how good the “good news” is. The “good news” is that historical man is not merely the man influenced by sin. He is also redeemed in Christ, who gives us real power to regain what was lost. We must keep this in the forefront of our minds as we reflect on the effects of sin on our experience of the body and sexuality. Without this hope, we will be tempted to despair, or to minimize and even normalize sin. TOB Explained

I went home and complained to my parents that I didn’t think I could go to mass anymore (interesting to note that I identified as a Catholic by claiming I went to mass every week). I remember my mother being upset at the thought of me just up and quitting. I tried to tell her why. Looking back, her response wasn’t the greatest. She admitted that she didn’t really believe everything the Catholic church preached, just most of it. That I could just be a cafeteria Catholic and pick and choose what I wanted to believe.

I didn’t see this as an option and in my heart I knew that response was wrong. It didn’t sit well with me. What I SHOULD have realized was that we’re all sinners. But there’s something called grace.

Christopher West mentioned during my recent retreat that “You can’t talk about sin without mentioning grace and God’s mercy. People will rationalize sin or despair if you ONLY talk about sin without mentioning God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

THAT’S exactly what was missing during this particular talk that I sat through. If the priest DID mention grace and forgiveness, I had already tuned out because I was rationalizing the sin in my mind.

“I don’t need to go to confession, this is BS.”

“These sins aren’t really sins at all. Everyone does this.”

“This is old-fashioned and archaic. I’m going to find a church that isn’t full of hypocrites.”

So my version of leaving the church meant not going to mass on Sundays.

I think I lasted a month before I went back.

The night before, I remember laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling and feeling like a rock was on my chest. I could feel pain and disappointment and sadness coming from within me.

I went back to Church the next day, sat among all the sinners, frustrated, clueless, broken.  Looking back, I was looking for answers. But I was too stubborn to ask. I assumed the answers were simply, “This is just the way it is. Now stop asking questions.”

I stayed stubborn for 15 more years.

Feeling Like a Fraud

After moving to Chicago at the age of 23, I joined a church and went through the motions. Still avoiding confession, but at least I was attending mass more than those “twice a year Catholics.” “At least I’m not one of them,” I told myself. “I’m one of the good ones.”

If I was broken before, I was now practically shattered. I was completely delusional about my life.

When our desire to understand the body and sexuality is not met with the truth, we inevitably fall for the lies.TOB For Beginners

I thought my life was going exactly as it should be for a single young woman in a fun town. I became proud of my independence and the fact that I didn’t need a man in my life to make me happy. I wore my independence and singleness like a badge of honor. I lived my 20’s and early 30’s…managing to squeeze in a few masses here and there on Sundays.

So although I identified as a Catholic, I was really living the life of someone else. I was definitely not engaging in behavior that would make anyone proud. I repeatedly felt like a fraud. That word, fraud, always seemed to creep into my head. It started when I was in college with my first “real” boyfriend. Fraud. Fake. Acting. I never focused on this word for too long to think about what it meant.

We do not have any direct experience of the first man and woman’s state of total innocence. Nonetheless, the Pope proposes that an “echo” of the beginning exists within each of us. The original human experiences, he says, “are always at the root of every human experience. Indeed, they are so interwoven with the ordinary things of life that we generally do not realize their extraordinary character.” (TOB 1 1:1) TOB for Beginners


That “echo of the beginning” was trying to come out of me. Call it my conscious or call it God or call it just a voice. But I know, now, that it was the echo trying to peek out. But I closed it out for a long time. Anytime I came close to “releasing” it, I rationalized it back inside. I kept thinking that my behavior was the norm. My actions were what everyone else was doing. I was just going along with whatever society told me to. I assumed it was okay and it was right and since it was legal, it was fine. I was free to do whatever I wanted.

“We are “free” in a sense to “do whatever we want with our bodies.” However, we are not free to determine whether what we do with our bodies is good or evil. TOB for Beginners

Our bodies can tell the truth or they can tell a lie. Our bodies tell a story and the story I was telling was one of desperation, sadness, pride, lust, dishonor and plenty of lies. Lots of lies, actually.

Lust is often thought of as some benefit to the sexual relationship or it is conceived of as an increase or intensification of sexual desire. In reality, lust is a reduction of the original fullness God intended for sexual desire. We do not get “more”when we lust but much less. Indulging in lust is comparable to eating out of a dumpster, when God invites us to the feast of eternal life. Why would be ever choose a dumpster? Because we do not really believe in the great gift of God’s banquet. This is the gift man and woman denied with original sin. Shame, in turn, indicates our attraction toward the “dumpster.” TOB for Beginners

Disordered Desires

I was attracted to things that were not good for me because my ethos was off. It wasn’t directed towards heaven, it was directed to things of this world. And I hurt a lot of people. I never apologized to any of them. I never confessed to anyone. I never admitted fault. In fact, I blamed others instead of pointing the finger right back at my own heart.

The stubbornness and rationalization continued on…and it became exhausting and despairing.

That’s what despair is: Hopelessness. In turn, when there is no hope of an eternal banquet that will satisfy our hunger, we start grasping at the pleasures of this world in a disordered way. Fill These Hearts – God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

That was exactly me. I listened to the secular world for too long and believed so many lies. I promoted the lie. I believed in the lie that when I finally found the truth, I practically shouted, “I KNEW IT!!! I knew I wasn’t the only one that felt this way!”  I was thrilled because that “echo” was finally freed from inside me.

And THAT’S why when I read TOB and went on this retreat that I cried for so long. I grieved my old life and all the sins and lies that were in it, but forever grateful for the transformation of my heart. I finally went to confession on that retreat after a 23 year hiatus.  I am so grateful that I finally found the answers I fought so hard to shut out, starting the night I sat in that pew with arms folded and closed off to the truth.


That is my point with this week’s post. I would be willing to bet you or someone you know has broken away from the church. Maybe the words were right but the song was wrong, like it was in my case. I stayed away for a long time. And if you ask me if I was happy, I would have lied right to your face and said yes.

Those 15 years were a necessary step in my journey of faith. Because if I hadn’t lived and believed the lie, I would never have been able to share the truth with anyone once I finally discovered it.

When we desire what is true, good, and beautiful, then we are free indeed – free to love, free to bless, which is the freedom from the compulsion to grasp and posses. TOB For Beginners

I look back and see my “break” from church as a child who fakes an illness in order to avoid going to school because he/she is afraid to take a test.

Now that I’m back, I have a lot of make-up homework to do.

…to be continued…


What I’m Currently Reading:

Pope Address the Young: Go Against the current, Live Chastely

Gospel Singer Posts Message of Forgiveness on Charleston Shooter’s Page

Worship in a Selfie Centered World

The Body is a Sign of the Divine Mystery

If you’re just joining us, be sure to read my last post to get “caught up.”

“You are made in the image and likeness of God.”

This statement was implanted firmly in my brain starting in Freshman Religion class. I remember thinking “I know this is true, but I’m still not quite sure what it means.”

I don’t think my 14 year old brain could process it. And this is probably true of a lot of teenagers.

I knew my life was a gift from God, but I also remember thinking, “But what does God have to do with my parents conceiving me?” In other words, what do Sex and God have in common? I literally had no idea the two were connected, as strange as that sounds to me 23 years later.

Now, after reading TOB, something finally clicked.

Human nature is both spiritual and physical. We aren’t spirits “trapped” in our bodies. The Church has always maintained that we are embodied spirits, or spiritualized bodies. Through the profound union of body and soul in each of us, our bodies reveal or “make visible” the invisible reality of our spirits. But it does even more. Because we are made in God’s image, our bodies also make visible something of God’s invisible mystery.  TOB For Beginners

God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange. CCC 221

And here’s where this all comes together –

God created us male and female so that we could image his love by becoming a sincere to gift to each other. This sincere giving establishes a “communion of persons” not only between the sexes but also-in the normal course of events- with a “third” who proceeds from them both. In this way, sexual love becomes an icon or earthly image in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity. TOB for Beginners

Whoa.

Have you ever heard anyone describe sex like this? Yeah. Pretty awesome right? It gets better.

As St. Paul says, quoting from Genesis, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:31-32).

This passage from Ephesians 5 is a key text- perhaps the key text- for understanding the body and sexuality “theologically.” Christ is the one who was sent by his Father in heaven. He also left the home of his mother on earth. Why? To give up his body for his Bride (the Church) so that we might become “one flesh” with him. Where do we unite sacramentally with Christ? In a most profound way in the Eucharist. TOB for Beginners

Confused? Don’t be! It’s simple really.

When all the confusions are cleared and the distortions are untwisted, the deepest meaning of human sexuality – of our creation as male and female and our call to communion – is “eucharist.” John Paul II describes the Eucharist as “the sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride.” God created us male and female right from the beginning to live in a “holy communion” that foreshadows the Holy Communion of Christ and the Church. In turn, the gift of Christ’s body to his Bride (celebrated in the Eucharist) sheds definitive light on the meaning of man and woman’s communion.

The Spousal Analogy

The Bible begins with the marriage of the first man and woman and it ends in Revelation with another “marriage” – the marriage of Christ and the Church.

And here is what we learn from the Pope’s Theology of the Body: God wanted this eternal “marital plan” to be so plain to us – so obvious to us – that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to become “one flesh.” TOB For Beginners

So two things to take away from this:

1. God is a communion of love

2. We are destined to share in that exchange (God wants to “marry” us – Hosea 2:19)

There is so much more to be discussed here but it is my hope, my dear readers, that you now have an idea of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God. I understand it’s a difficult idea to wrap your head around, and one that is never going to be understood completely due to our limited brain power, but that’s why it’s called the “mystery.”

Fitting in My Faith: I look at Eucharist differently now that I have read TOB. Now I understand why it’s a sacrament. Now I understand why marriage is a sacrament. Now I know why the Church takes it seriously, and now I appreciate it even more when I hear the words, “This is my body, given up for you.”

I also appreciate life, my own life and the lives of others, much more greatly. I don’t think of how we are created as just “sex between two people who love each other.” And 9 months later, life. It’s much more than that. It’s a sacred union. It’s not gross or disgusting or bad. It’s awesome and it’s miraculous and it’s a small, tiny, itty bitty taste of what heaven is going to be like. No, we won’t be having sex in heaven, 🙂 We’ll BE in heaven, we’ll be in UNION with God! We’ll be married to Him!

This is the purpose of sexual union in the divine plan: to prefigure in some way the glory, ecstasy, and bliss that awaits us in heaven TOB For Beginners

I don’t know about you, but understanding why we were created, makes me have greater faith of the heaven that awaits us all.

to be continued….

-Michelle